Huntsville State Prison
By Nick DiFonzo from Houston, Texas (Texas death house)
 [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Those who knew Nena and Tucker knew there had been trouble brewing for some time. But even in such cases, murder and suicide is seldom the expected outcome.(See part one of this story here.)  As I began to research the couple, I realized that both had had difficult lives long before meeting each other.

Interestingly enough, Tucker Royal Gurganus was not the first ex-con who had caught Nena’s eye. Her first husband, Emmett Pettiette had also been in and out of prison. The Texas Convict and Conduct Registers for the years 1875-1945 show that Emmett spent time in the Texas prisons Huntsville, Ramsey and Imperial in 1925 for forgery, but the records also indicate that he received a full pardon from the Governor by telegram the following year. But soon he was back at it and on January 27, 1933, The Tyler Journal newspaper identified Emmett Pettiette the “ex-con” as an accomplice in the robbery of the First State Bank of Eustace.

Life had been a bumpy road for Tucker from the time he was little. When he was three years old, his father, James Taylor Gurganus died. His mother Malinda (Thacker) Gurganus, then had her hands full caring for the children still at home. She also did what she could to keep their small farm running in order to feed and clothe the family. But twelve years later, when Tucker was 15, his mother died and he and his brother Lloyd were left to find their own way. Sometime after Nena and Emmett divorced, Tucker married Nena. Unfortunately, life didn’t get any easier for either of them.

By the time Tucker was 25, he had spent time in the Texas criminal system. Like Emmett Pettiette, Tucker too served in Ramsey in 1926 and I wondered if the two men knew each other. However, Tucker’s record on the Texas Convict and Conduct register is considerably more extensive and reveals a man who refused to conform and who fought against authority.

In 1926 he escaped from Ramsey and was recaptured the same day. A few days later Tucker once again escaped.The records are somewhat confusing at this point but mention that in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary he had also escaped and was gone for over a year before he was caught and taken to the Huntsville Prison.

In April of 1929, he escaped from solitary confinement in Ferguson State Farm but was recaptured a day later. He then spent 238 hours in solitary confinement for fighting. A month later he was once again sent to solitary. His time was split between Ramsey, Huntsville, and Ferguson before he was finally discharged in 1931.

The prison records offer a physical description of Tucker. He had brown eyes and brown hair and stood at five foot eight 1/2 inches. According to the record, despite being orphaned, he somehow managed to complete high school. As I scrolled through the record, his education made him stand out among many of the other prison inmates, many of whom were considerably less educated. The record indicated that he had been able to work as a bookkeeper for a time. (1)

Truly this paints the picture of a man who was not afraid to take chances and who was willing to risk it all in an attempt to regain his freedom. What happens when such a man feels trapped and without options? Newspaper reports following his suicide provided more details of the events in the days leading up to his and Nena’s deaths and I will share those in the upcoming post.

(1); Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945 for T. R. Gurgonus, Convict Ledgers, Huntsville, B-52021-057100.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

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16 thoughts on “Serving Time

  1. "Tucker Royal" – what a fantastic name! It sounds like a name for a fictional character. He made it legendary – I'm sure he became quite a legend to prison wardens and guards. His real life story is ripe for a case study in a psychology class. It's easy to see how someone forced to struggle early on looked for the easy way out, but that is not to excuse him. Surely someone was concerned for his moral upbringing.

  2. A great story, but what a sad life Tucker had somewhat created for himself. It makes me wonder what goes through some people's minds with the choices they make. Well written and I am looking forward to the next post.

  3. I agree with Wendy – Tucker Royal sounds like an amazing fictional character's name! And, the story reads like fiction. What an incredible, but sad, story!

  4. Tragic really, Michelle, it makes you wonder why some people make such a mess of things, especially those like Tucker who had the education to live a comfortable, happy life.

  5. Unbelievable isn't it Debi? Seriously, you would think he would have figured out he wasn't going to succeed. Instead I wonder if each time he was caught, he just became more determined to get away.

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